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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Investigating Gaza War Crimes

Dees Illustration

Stephen Lendman

On August 11, Human Rights Council (HRC) President Baudelaire Ndong Ella announced the formation of an "independent, international commission of inquiry" into war crimes committed during Israel's Operation Protective Edge. 

International human rights law expert Professor William Schabas was appointed to chair a three-person panel. His special focus is genocide. 

Other members include international law, criminal law, human rights and extradition law expert, Amal Alamuddin, and former UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene. 

Note: According to AP, Alamuddin said she's unable to serve. Expect an alternate appointment to replace her. 

The HRC "decided to establish the commission of inquiry at its twenty-first special session on 23 July 2014 to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults." 

Schabas is a well-known Israeli critic. He praised the Goldstone Committee Operation Cast Lead report. More on it below. 

Earlier, he called for putting Netanyahu and former Israeli president Shimon Peres in the dock at the International Criminal Court for committing high crimes too serious to ignore. 

Israel failed to influence the commission of inquiry's composition. In response to the appointment of Schbas, Alamuddin, and Diene, it called the panel "biased, misconceived and destructive." 

Defrocked and reinstated Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called HRC a "terrorists' rights council." His spokesman Yigal Palmer added: 

If more evidence was needed to show this, the appointment of the commission’s chairman, whose opinions and positions against Israel are known to all, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Israel cannot expect justice from such a body, and that the report has already been written and remains only to be signed.
In March 2015, the commission will submit its report. According to HRC President Ella, its mission is also "to establish the facts and circumstances of (human rights) violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults." 

MSM scoundrels reported little or nothing about the commission's appointment and mission. The New York Times covered it in one long paragraph only with little context. 

Pro-Israeli bias is longstanding MSM policy. An attempt to downplay the potential importance of the commission's investigation shows in failure to give it the attention it deserves. 

Following Israel's 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, the HRC appointed the Goldstone "fact-finding mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip." 

On September 15, 2009, the HRC released the commission's 575-page report, titled "Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories: Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict." 

An accompanying press release said "there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.” 

Examples included Palestinians shot while waving white flags, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial assassinations and using Palestinians as human shields. 

According to the commission: 

While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right of self defence, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.
Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks were minor incidents compared to Israel's onslaught. 

The Palestinian death toll exceeded 1,400. Thousands were injured. 

Israeli aggression amounted to strictly prohibited collective punishment against a civilian population. 

It lawlessly targeted residential neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, mosques, public buildings, factories and vital infrastructure. 

It violated the principles of "distinction" between combatants and military targets v. civilians and non-military ones, as well as "proportionality" prohibiting disproportionate force likely to cause extensive damage and loss of life. 

Commission findings included numerous examples of disproportionate Israeli attacks against civilians with lethal outcomes. 

It called them war crimes for being unrelated to justifiable military objectives. It cited "a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action." 

It urged referral to the International Criminal Court for further action. 

The Goldstone "report conclude(d) that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population." 

The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.
Repeatedly, the Israel Defense Forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require.
Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law.
Failure to do so “will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy." 
As a service to hundreds of civilians who needlessly died and for the equal application of international justice, the perpetrators of serious violations must be held to account.
On October 19, 2009, the 47-member HRC approved a resolution endorsing Israeli war crimes charges. 

The vote was 25 in favor, six against (including Washington), 11 abstentions and five no-shows. 

On September 21, 2010, an HRC statement said: 

It was clear to the Committee that the IDF had not distinguished between civilians and civilian objects and military targets.
Both the loss of life and the damage to property were disproportionate to the harm suffered by Israel or any threatened harm. Israel's actions could not be justified as self-defense.
The IDF was responsible for the crime of killing, wounding and terrorizing civilians (as well as) wonton(ly) destr(oying) property and that such destruction could not be justified on grounds of military necessity.
The HRC called IDF crimes so grave, "it was compelled to consider whether (genocide) had been committed." Its conclusion was that Israel "committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and, possibly genocide in the course of Operation Cast Lead." 

This writer calls Operation Protective Edge Cast Lead on steroids. The 2008-09 war lasted 22 days - from December 27, 2008 until January 18, 2009. 
Israel's current aggression began on July 8. It remains ongoing. Shaky ceasefires interrupted hostilities briefly. A current 72-hour one continues during talks in Cairo aimed at ending conflict conditions. 

A previous three-day suspension of accomplished nothing. Both sides remain at impasse. Israel wants all its demands met unconditionally. 

It offers virtually nothing in return except empty promises certain to be broken. On Tuesday, Reuters quoted an unnamed Israeli official saying no progress was made during current talks. 

"The gaps between the sides are big, and there is no progress in the negotiations," he said. Hamas had no comment. 

According to Maan News, a partial draft on easing Gaza's siege was drafted. Terms include: 

  1. Letting Gazans fish up to 12 nautical miles from shore.
  2. Increasing daily trucks with imported goods to 250.
  3. Increasing the number of monthly permits for Gazans to pass through Erez crossing to 500.
  4. Permitting money transfers from the West Bank to Gaza via the PA.
  5. Opening the Rafah crossing to Egypt.
  6. Freeing released prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit later rearrested.
  7. According to the Israeli Ynet news site, letting construction materials enter Gaza "under close supervision."
  8. Prohibiting construction of a seaport to facilitate imports and exports unless Hamas and other resistance groups agreed to demilitarize.
It's unclear how they'll react to this proposal. It's well short of lifting siege conditions and agreeing to other fundamental Palestinian demands. 

It bears repeating what previous articles stressed. Israeli agreements aren't worth the paper they're written on. 

Willful violations occur with disturbing regularity. Israel invents reasons to justify the unjustifiable.
Whatever comes out of Cairo talks, expect the pattern to repeat this time. Expect long sought justice to be denied. 

At the same time, Israel violated ceasefire conditions by using live fire against Palestinian fishermen off southern Gaza's coast. No injuries were reported. 

On August 11, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported 2,008 Palestinians killed. They include 1,670 civilians (83%): 471 were children; 252 were women. 

Another 8,150 Palestinians were wounded, many seriously. Other reports said up to 10,000. Thousands of houses were destroyed or damaged. 

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly displaced. Israel bombed and shelled their homes and neighborhoods to rubble. 

It remains unaccountable for crimes of war and against humanity amounting to genocide. Goldstone's Cast Lead report achieved nothing. Expect justice to be denied again this time. 

With Western support and US Security Council veto power, Israel is free to commit high crimes against peace whenever it wishes with impunity. 

It takes full advantage. Palestinian liberation remains an unfulfilled distant dream. Maybe some day. Not now. 

Related Article: 
The 'Legal Issue' of Operation Cast Lead: ICC Rules That Palestinians Cannot Investigate Israeli War Crimes 

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III." Visit his blog site Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network. It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 

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